LYNDEN - Pastor Kim Ryan will never forget the exact number of people who attended the first service at North County Christ the King Church.
"It was July 31, 2000, the worst time of year to open a church," he said. "We had 404 people show up! I was absolutely stunned. What a gift from God!"
Ryan has gained the satisfaction of seeing his church grow to a weekly attendance of 1,700 to 1,800 for its three services. Now he's stepping down from lead pastor and taking on a new role helping others.
Ryan, 61, and his wife of 38 years, Anne, have five grown children and two grandchildren. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in religion and economics after spending most of his college years at Illinois State University, not far from where he grew up. He attended seminary at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., and obtained a doctor of ministries degree from Bakke Graduate University in Seattle.
He founded Blaine Christian Fellowship and Destiny Church, spending seven years at each, before joining Bellingham's Christ The King Community Church as an associate pastor for two years.
The affable lead pastor will be honored at a public farewell celebration at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, at the church's worship center, 1835 Liberty St.
Question: Pastor Kim, what's next for you?
Answer: After 30 years of nonstop ministry I've been granted a four-month sabbatical. Our congregation is so generous. Then Anne and I will devote ourselves to people who need to be rescued. We'll focus on Cambodia and India, while remaining based in Lynden.
Q: Who's the new lead pastor?
A: Kurt Langstraat, who's 51 and has been an associate pastor for 10 years. He'll do a phenomenal job.
Q: Did you foresee North County Christ the King growing so large?
A: We never expected to grow this much. It's been a great blessing.
I attribute our growth to keeping the main thing the main thing. We have three loves - we love God, we love one another and we love people who need Jesus Christ.
Q: What are your memories of how your church started?
A: Steve Mason, the pastor who founded the county's original Christ The King Church in Bellingham, saw how we were rapidly growing (in the late 1990s). We were running out of room, and we had a lot of people coming down from Lynden. It was Steve's idea to ask me if I'd be willing to start a north county church.
Anne and I were excited about the privilege and honor. We wondered if Lynden needed another church, but we felt God had our back.
Q: How did your church unfold?
A: We were blessed to be able to use the Lynden Christian Chapel, and then we rented at Fairway Center. Eventually, we bought half of Fairway Center, some 64,000 square feet, from Harold Kooy and his family. They were incredibly gracious and helped us secure the building at an awesome price.
Q: What else accounts for your growth?
A: I really believe when you're a big church in a small town, you have to work at being "small."
I like to say we have our LIFE groups - loving groups, involvement groups, focus groups and enjoyment groups.
We have so many programs. We started a men's program two and a half years ago, and that has been fabulously successful, with more than 100 men every Tuesday night. We have a wonderful youth ministry, from preschool through high school, and we have so much more. We have a tremendous number of women involved.
Q: What's your mission program like?
A: We're very active in missions in some of the toughest places in the world, such as Haiti, northern India, Cambodia. Last year we sent 14 missions. ... I do a pastor's conference yearly in Nigeria for more than 1,000 pastors.
We have a five-pronged emphasis to bring healing to traumatized nations: We try to plant healthy churches, to equip servant leaders, to assist the poor, to care for the sick, and to educate the illiterate.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.